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IPS vs IDS vs Firewalls: Key Differences

05.24.2022

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make with their network security is relying on only one layer of defense against threats.

Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point in the history of network security where one layer of defense is not enough. Bad actors are getting more knowledgeable and sophisticated by the day, and having a single defensive strategy against intruders offers very little protection.

Instead, companies should focus on a multi-layered strategy that is both proactive and defensive to ensure that their network and assets remain safely out of reach of bad actors. Implementing a multi-pronged approach to cybersecurity involves several network security devices, infrastructure, and strategies that work together to create a secure landscape for effective work and productivity.

However, too many people make a mistake choosing IPS vs. IDS vs. firewalls instead of looking at them as complementary technologies. Today, we’ll delve into some of the most common network security infrastructure approaches and show how they can benefit your organization’s overall approach to cybersecurity.

IPS

An intrusion prevention system (IPS) is a network security device used to continuously monitor a network for intruders. If the IPS detects any suspicious activity, it moves quickly to prevent it. This action could take the form of blocking it, reporting it, or dropping it, depending on how far the intruder has penetrated at the time of detection.

An IPS can take the form of either hardware or software and is often included as a feature or component in next-generation firewalls. Whatever form the IPS takes must be powerful enough to offer real-time monitoring of incoming traffic without slowing down your network. 

IDS

Before we can accurately contrast IPS vs. IDS, let’s fully define both.

IDS stands for intrusion detection system, and like the IPS, it’s a device or system that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic to detect potential anomalous or suspicious activity. It does this by comparing incoming traffic to suspicious patterns or identifiers drawn from a database of known threats. Once a threat comes in, the system generates an alert so that IT personnel can analyze the threat and decide what to do next.

Firewalls 

A firewall is a network security device that oversees all the network traffic that comes in and out of your system and monitors it for any suspicious activity. Firewalls come in many different forms, ranging from a virtual firewall deployed in a private cloud (a common feature of many software-defined networks) to a threat-focused firewall that incorporates various security features like IPS to improve threat detection and management.

However, these firewalls are only as good as their threat intel, and if you’re not working with accurate information, it puts your security at risk.

Additionally, firewalls must be accurately configured and regularly updated to remain effective. If they are not, it opens up security vulnerabilities that bad actors can easily exploit. 

IPS vs. IDS vs. Firewalls 

Many organizations looking to improve their cybersecurity want to implement the best solution without paying too much or spending vast amounts of time and energy setting it up.

That’s why many compare IDS vs. IPS vs. firewalls, to help themselves understand the differences between these security approaches and identify which solutions are best for their needs.

Fully understanding the benefits of each solution and (more importantly) how they work together is critical in ensuring that your organization’s approach to cybersecurity is proactive against threats without slowing down productivity.

IPS vs. IDS

On the surface, IPS and IDS systems look very similar. They are both responsible for overseeing network traffic and monitoring for suspicious activity. They identify suspicious or anomalous activity by reading a database of known threats and comparing incoming traffic to that information.

However, IDS vs. IPS differs when it comes to what happens after a threat or suspicious activity is identified.

  • IDS systems exist as a monitoring tool and are not capable of taking any action other than reporting the threat. If any proactive action needs to be taken, it must be triggered by a human who reads the system alert and decides what should be done next.
  • IPS systems make decisions about suspicious activity or traffic and subsequently take action based on a set of rules. These rules typically come from a reliable external source, allowing the system to act on its own based on the prescribed rules.

IPS vs. Firewalls

Comparing IPS vs. firewalls can be challenging since they both work to prevent bad actors from entering a closed system. Both do this by comparing incoming traffic to pre-programmed intelligence. However, there are critical differences in how they operate.

  • IPS systems or devices inspect traffic with the ultimate goal of identifying suspicious patterns or signatures. If this pattern matches something that had already been identified as suspicious, the system blocks the attack. 
  •  In contrast, a firewall filters traffic based on IP addresses without analyzing the broader pattern. A firewall should always be the first line of defense against bad actors.

IDS vs. Firewalls 

While an IDS and a firewall are both devices that can help prevent bad actors from gaining entry into your system, they work in different ways.

  • An IDS system exists to alert IT personnel and other stakeholders about potential suspicious events. It does not block any traffic or provide protection itself.
  • A firewall is a complementary technology, since it blocks activity originating from known suspicious IP addresses or entities.

Using an IDS system and a firewall together can help offer more information and insight than using just one or the other. 

Which Approach Do I Need? 

We believe that the best approach to cybersecurity is one that layers in multiple devices and systems that work together to protect network security. Even if one fails, the others can step in to close the gap. Having only one is not enough. Together, IDS, IPS, and firewalls work in concert to ensure ongoing network security and data intelligence.

Typically, the firewall sits at the forefront of the security stack, with IPS and IDS layered behind to catch any suspicious activity that manages to sneak through. The IDS sits closest to the internal network and the user, giving the IT and security team a view of incoming traffic and where there may be security gaps that need to be filled.

Boost Your Network Security with ThreatBlockr

Not sure how your network security can be improved? It’s one thing to learn about security, but another thing entirely to re-evaluate your needs and take a more proactive stance.

ThreatBlockr is here to help. Our network security solutions are designed to enhance your existing security and make it more proactive by neutralizing risks and stopping threats before they even reach your network. Plus, it’s always learning about new threats and detecting ways to improve and block them before they happen.

Want to learn more? Explore our platform today.